Physiology and Accountability

In my last few posts I’ve been covering my efforts to reduce both my sugar and my salt intake. I covered the issue of motivation, and how hard it is to keep up your resolve once you know what you need to do.

One of my suggestions was that it helped to have someone to support you with accountability.

Of course, third party accountability only works as long as we are completely honest with our support person. They can’t – and shouldn’t – be monitoring every bite you take, nor giving you the third degree every time you eat.

So how do they know how well you’re doing, unless you tell them, and how does that work when we often fool ourselves?

Interesting enough I stumbled on an undeniable red flag for me personally; in other words, a nonverbal sign that I’ve been over-indulging in those substances.

Let’s start with sugar:

Recently I was fighting a losing battle with eczema on my hands. No amount of cream, or use of gloves to avoid detergents, really did much in the way of clearing it up. However, a few weeks of the sugar cleanse and suddenly my hands were clear. I didn’t make the connection until I started to allow sugar to sneak itself back into my diet and…you guessed it…back comes the eczema!

I imagine this is something a lot of people with eczema know, but it passed me by in my research. Perhaps I didn’t see what I didn’t want to see.

Now, all my husband has to do is to hold my hand, and the truth is undeniably apparent. As frustrating as the eczema is, I am trying to see it as a positive thing, an external motivator to keep the sugar in my diet as low as I can.

As for salt, I discovered a year or so ago that a high salt diet has an annoying effect on my bladder! Too much salt and suddenly I’m a frequent visitor to the powder room. I can’t get through an eight hour sleep without getting up at least twice to go to the bathroom. And, as many ladies know, we can often suffer from bladder urgency. Nothing like having to stop whatever you’re doing because your bladder is in charge!

Given both these ‘tells’ it’s easy enough for me – and my wonderful, supportive hubby – to keep me honest and in control of my weight.

As much as I want to curse these particular side-effects of two such addictive substances, they do act as both reminder and cautionary yellow light. Maybe not quite a blessing, but not the curse I tend to consider it to be.

Back to putting down that dang salted caramel chocolate bar…::sigh::

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Backslide

One of the realities of being human is that motivation is something we must continually feed if we are to maintain healthy habits.

Yes, I slipped a little off the sugar cleanse and have been yo-yoing between a 2 lbs range for the last 2 weeks or so.

This isn’t tragic, it’s not a 10 lb gain, or a return to the sugar-addiction behaviours that will herald a return to obesity, but it is frustrating and clearly demonstrates how firmly these sugar-laden foods have us in their grip. Just another reminder of how important it is to be careful how we allow children access to these substances in the first place.

In my case I was able to keep sweets under control, but once again allowed carbs – that hidden sugar – to creep back up. Not being a cook, and working an afternoon shift that means I come home with no desire to cook, makes it tough to immerse myself in the healthy cooking behaviours that would truly be my salvation.

And yes, that’s an excuse I have no right to put forward. I know it’s perfectly possible for me to cook healthy meals on my time off, freeze portions, and conveniently eat well.

So, my question to myself has to be “Why?”. Why am I not preparing these meals in advance?

My only answer today is lack of the right motivation.

So, I continue to watch documentaries and read books. I continue to visit the weight loss surgery forums. These things are helpful in keeping the bad behaviours in check. I’ve maintained my weight loss for several years now, and I must stand proud of that. It’s not a small accomplishment. The vast majority of obese people who lose weight gain it back…and more.

I believe that the longer I maintain this loss the better my chances of keeping my obesity in remission.

And that is clearly what people hate to face about obesity. It is a terminal disease with no cure. There is only remission.

I refuse to let this disease get hold again. I will fight it for as long as I live.

Perhaps I can find some motivation there. Making the fight easier by developing the healthy cooking habits I need.

‘Food’ for thought!

Taking Control

The last tip I shared on overcoming hypereating was behavioral. Training yourself to physically avoid cues and triggers will ease the stress of dealing with them on a constant basis and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it easier on yourself. Life is hard enough!

Today I’m going to address another cognitive strategy that Dr. Kessler outlines in his book. This is a great long-term strategy that has the power to change your way of perceiving those foods that are contributing to unhealthy eating and obesity.

In the other posts we talked about the cycle of cue-urge-reward-habit. We are cued by something, perhaps visual, emotional, or olfactory. Our brains respond with a strong, pervasive, insistent urge to eat that food. We pop that doughnut into our mouths and are temporarily rewarded by its taste, sensation, smell, memories…By doing so we strengthen the habit, and make it stronger. Now the next time we are cued that urge will be even stronger.

Each time we give in we strengthen the behaviour and lessen our chances of resisting.

That’s a very important point.

So how do we break the cycle?

In my first post about strategies I talked about how we have just a few seconds in that cycle where we have the strongest chance of breaking it. By responding immediately to the cue and following through on it with all the reasons we don’t want to – and won’t – eat that food. I’ve been using this strategy a lot and it’s a powerful tool.

The next cognitive strategy builds on that one. Not only can we rationalize ourselves into refusing to obey the trigger we can learn to change our response to the trigger altogether!

As long as we accept that food as a reward our brains will always drive us towards it. That’s how the brain works, that’s how we survive. But what if that food was not a reward at all? Then the cycle is broken, and we are no longer conditioned to overeat!

Now, food is a primary reinforcer, meaning we are hard-wired to be rewarded by food in order to aid in our survival.  But we can choose what foods we are rewarded by. And we can introduce other rewards as well.

This is done by taking control of your thoughts around those foods.

Here’s an example: I really want that ice-cream…BUT, I am not going to have it, because I don’t want diabetes. Ice-cream is not a reward, because it’s bad for me, and makes me unhappy with myself. I feel awful after I eat the ice-cream. I’m going to have some grapes instead. They’re refreshing, and my body will appreciate the antioxidants. I’ll increase my chances of living longer and having fewer diseases!

By changing how we see foods high in sugar, fat and salt, identifying them as disgusting and harmful, we lessen their power as a reward. By learning to truly see those foods as enemies, by reminding ourselves of the horrible consequences those foods can have, we can help our brains recognize that these foods are not rewards, at all.

Then we can choose the rewards we want to have dominate our lives.

We can imagine the money we once put into fast food going into yoga classes, clothes we enjoy wearing, or massages. We can see ourselves putting money once spent on “treats” towards a cruise, or tuition for school.

It takes a little time but the more we work on breaking the cycle the weaker the cycle gets. Eventually the triggers lessen and the urge becomes something we can dismiss with relative ease. We see ourselves as one of those people we used to admire. The ones who just seem blissfully unaware of the cake and cookies on the staff-room table.

This strategy is meant to be a long-term cognitive shift that will serve us well, as long as we are diligent and don’t start seeing those foods as friendly, rewarding foods again. It doesn’t mean we can never have ice-cream, but given time we can do so with control.

And isn’t that what we wanted all along?

Avoiding The Triggers Of Hypereating

 

In my last few posts I’ve been outlining some of the tools and skills Dr. Kessler suggests in his book about overeating. I talked about being mindful when the urge first enters your mind in response to cues, and how to grab that moment to lessen the temptation and turn away the obsessive food thought.

I also talked about how useful a buddy can be. Someone you can count on to lovingly give you extra accountability and support. This is something we often neglect out of shame and/or pride, sadly making our success less likely. No one is an island after all. We all have habits we wish to shake, and willpower alone is not going to cut it when it comes to dealing with conditioned hypereating.

Another tactic I’d like to share involves becoming aware of your triggers and reducing them.

One example is my habit of spending a lot of time in malls. Now that I can shop at all the clothing stores, malls are a wonderland for me! And malls involve walking, which burns calories. (Yay!) That means I’m going to need fuel if I hang out there too long. This can spell trouble without a back-up plan. Food fairs are almost an impossible place to find a healthy alternative. Smoothies seem healthy, but are full of sugar. And try finding a salad bar without tempting additions – like creamy dressings, croutons and protein sources pumped full of fat to keep them moist.

Since I know this can be a trigger I have to be prepared with my own healthy snacks; easy to pack things like almonds or protein bars (that are NOT simply candy bars with protein – read your labels!). I carry my trusty protein shake to sip on to keep hunger away, as well.

If the smells of the food fair are a trigger then the key is to find a little bench in another part of the mall in order to enjoy your food. (Have you ever noticed that washrooms are located in or near the food area? Sure, it makes sense to put them there, but mall designers also know that any excuse to get patrons near those tempting smells will draw them in, hungry or not.)

If that coffee shop that serves great donuts is on your way to work, then you can lower the temptation by finding another way to drive. It might be a nuisance at first but once you get that trigger under control you can resume that route using your renewed resistance. But why make things harder on yourself? Resisting triggers is hard enough without tempting yourself unnecessarily.

Another technique is to ban trigger foods from your home.

This is where the support of family comes in. While it may seem selfish to ban food you can’t eat that your family enjoys, consider this: Is that food any healthier for them? Can they access that food when they are out, or when you are not home? As long as that food is not in your sight, as long as that food remains hidden to you, it’s as good as not there. I realize this is a difficult issue for most of us but it’s worth doing as much of this as you can.

Plan your meals and buy only the groceries you need for those healthy meals. Try as much as possible to enlist the family in a healthy eating goal. After awhile the routine you build will help you resist that urge to buy those trigger foods when you are shopping. You might think this is unfair to everyone else but remember they are being conditioned to hypereat as well, and people increase their chances of success at almost anything by using teamwork.

Torturing yourself at night while your family devours a bag of chips and dips is not going to build willpower or earn you martyr points. Explain to your family that this is something they are doing to help everyone live a longer healthier life. What family wants to watch their loves ones die from something so preventable as obesity? The more we talk about these challenges and share them the more likely we are to experience success.

It’s important to use mindfulness to start identifying triggers, and then to create strategies in order to lessen your exposure to them. Remember, it’s not about pure willpower overcoming bad habits. Dealing with conditioned hypereating is about re-wiring your brain’s reward system, about breaking the loop of trigger-urge-reward. Our brains can be very resistant to breaking this conditioning so any tools that help are well worth embracing.

I’ve been adopting many of Dr. Kessler’s techniques as I read his book, and they’ve helped me stay on track for over a month now. It’s not always been easy, but it’s been a success. I’m not foolish enough to think I’ve won, however. I know this is an ongoing battle, but maintaining health IS a daily battle for everyone, whether it involves hanging on to bad habits like smoking, or procrastinating on good habits like exercise or brushing your teeth.

Our bodies are the houses of our consciousness, and we have to maintain them throughout our lives.  We don’t get to sell them and move on to a newer model once we’ve trashed them.

That’s a fact that we just can’t deny.

Next post I’ll talk about more strategies, like portion control, and re-wiring the reward system.

Conditioned Hypereating

In my last post I promised to talk more about Dr. Kessler’s practical strategies to help end overeating. In order to really understand why and how these strategies work it helps to have a little more background on how we got so addicted to these foods that are killing us.

In his book The End Of Overeating he uses the term conditioned hypereating. I hadn’t heard this term before but it immediately resonated with me. It seems to describe beautifully what has happened in the last few decades, resulting in the undeniable rise in obesity, especially in North America.

As part of a marketing strategy designed to bring in – and keep – customers the food corporations have convinced us that More Is Better. More meals a day, more on our plates, more sugar, fat and salt…

We became conditioned to expect food to be everywhere, and in large quantities. Snack foods like muffins and donuts have increased in variety and in size. Meals at fast food chains and other restaurants are now super meals or mega deals.

Our brains accept what seems to be a logical conclusion: More is Better.

But in reality there is a huge flaw in this logic. More is not better. More is simply more. They are not synonyms.

Think about it: More is simply more. More food results in more pounds added on. More pounds added on results in being more overweight. And being more overweight results in more disease. More disease results in more physical and mental degeneration.

When it comes to food more is not better. More is killing us.

But now, we’re hooked. Conditioned to overeat. And this hypereating benefits no one except the food manufacturers, the fast food chains, and the drug companies.

I’m going to repeat this: We are conditioned to hypereat.

We are taught that food makes everything better. We are taught that in our increasingly stressful lives we deserve a break, a break meaning a chocolate bar, ice-cream, a donut, a sugary soda drink or a mega-hamburger. And not just one, because…more is better.

And when we try to stop this overeating we fail. We blame ourselves or lie to ourselves, and the only way we know to stop the horrible emotional mix of shame, anxiety and depression…is to eat.

We have been conditioned to use food as a reward, a way of celebrating, a way of grieving, and a way of amusing ourselves. We are using food to dull uncomfortable emotions, to deal with stress. We have forgotten that food is meant to physically sustain us, not control our emotions.

The first step to ending overeating is to recognize that we’ve been conditioned. Then we must decide whether we want to be controlled by these corporations that don’t care when we get diabetes, have strokes or heart attacks and die. We have to decide that we want control back.

We need to stop blaming our unhealthy diets on personal failure and a lack of willpower. We have been feed some highly addictive substances and some highly effective brainwashing. But, it’s possible to turn it around.

In my next post I’ll be talking about more strategies to change this conditioning.

Sugar Detoxing Continues

 

Well, it’s been a few weeks since the sugar detoxing began. There have been great things and frustrating things about it, naturally.

One of the frustrations was serious moodiness. That feeling of denial, of a general unfairness to the world, which is of course not a truly rational feeling, but must be addressed and accepted nonetheless.

Another frustration is losing the desire to eat. Many times when I was struggling with my weight I wished for that, ironically. But it can be be aggravating to stand in the supermarket, know you have to get food, and not knowing where to turn. Everything is full of salt and sugar, unless you are prepared to cook from scratch ingredients. Sadly, I’m no cook.

Bad heartburn, but I’m not sure how this is related – if at all. I’m now reading that sugar can trigger it, and I know it gets bad after I eat fruit, which is what I do to help with the cravings for sweetness.

Another frustration was watching my carbs and salt go up in retaliation for the lack of sugar satisfaction in my diet. That stalled the weight loss a bit until I caught on. These habits can be sneaky!

The cravings improve but can still suddenly hit me, even after a few weeks.

Now, the good things.

I lost 4 pounds, and my clothes feel better again.

My energy returned.

I know my health is better for it.

I think my slight case of eczema is improving. I wasn’t expecting sugar to be a trigger but after doing some research there is a possibility. I’m not sure I’ve done near enough research on that yet.

The best help I think I’ve had in the struggle is R. He is so supportive, and also acts as a great back-up conscience! I believe 3rd party accountability is a huge factor for success in changing life habits. Talking to him helps me renew my resolve, and making him proud makes me feel great.

Dr. Kessler’s book (I wrote about that in my last post) not only made me aware of how serious this is for my health but he also has some great tips.

I will be doing a separate piece on those but I will leave you with the first one.

The moment the thought enters your head that you want that cookie – or chocolate or… – you have just a few seconds to get control before the obsessive thought takes hold and makes refusing the treat a herculean task. You must hear it, grab it and add the BUT.

I want that pie…BUT I don’t want to gain weight, get sick, end up with diabetes. I will feel good for just a few minutes if I have it BUT I will also feel awful and crave more if I do. I choose the long term satisfaction over the short term reward.

I’ve been impressed with how well it works, but you must practice it. It becomes easier over time as you successfully resist the trigger.

Just that one technique alone was worth reading the book.

4 lbs down, and I hope to drop a few more. This is not a short term weight loss goal however, it’s a long term health goal. Still, I take it one day at a time, in order to lessen that feeling of denial. No point sabotaging myself.